One employee on the 2019 Top Workplaces survey had a one-word answer to the question of what SDG, a Golden Valley-based tech consulting firm, does efficiently and well: “EVERYTHING!”
Everyone working for SDG is a full-time employee, including its consultants, who develop applications and custom enterprise software and are salaried with full benefits. And all of SDG’s 205 employees also became owners, after its 2016 creation of an employee stock ownership plan (ESOP).
“We weigh everything against our core values ... and have let that guide us,” SDG president Keith Martin said. “We’ve tried to hire people that share those values and are going to live them. I think we’ve done a good job of that. That’s helped us continue to grow [and] built our reputation with clients, our employees and potential employees.
“The rest, which is easy to say, takes care of itself.”
SDG lists its core values as “superior client satisfaction, exceptional employee experience, and responsible corporate citizenship.” Consistency in adhering to those principles is the blueprint for how SDG and its employee-owners earned recognition as “Doers,” a Top Workplaces special award. SDG, formerly known as Solution Design Group, ranked first among all Top Workplaces companies in getting things done. (It also topped the overall Top Workplaces list for midsize employers.)
Hiring full-time consultants in a field where competitors often use contractors “instills more dedication and loyalty and pride in our employees,” Martin said.
Further, SDG invests in resource managers, a support system for consultants, who spend most of the their time at client sites. Resource managers work to ensure a positive experience for employees and clients, according to Jana Bertheaume, SDG’s human resources director.
“When you have employees that the majority of time aren’t at your location, it’s important to have that layer of individuals who can understand them not only from a work environment but also from a personal standpoint,” Bertheaume said. “One thing that sets us apart is that we get to know our consultants and understand that’s important to them.”
Mark Reid, an SDG consultant for eight years, said consultants appreciate “having that trusted contact to reach out to and to talk to about my career.
“We’re always looking at ‘How can I stay current in the marketplace, what opportunities am I interested in?’ and having someone at the company to talk to about that is really a great asset,” Reid said.
SDG’s leaders believe the combination of full-time consultants and resource managers contributes to high employee retention.
“We’re always trying to look at what’s right for the consultant,” said Doug Rhodes, SDG’s sales director. “We’re also trying to look at what’s right for the customer. We’re not there to try and just bill them some dollars. We’re there to try and improve their organization.”
SDG conducts internal surveys throughout the year to gauge employee satisfaction, Martin said. “If we can provide a better place for them to ply their craft than next door, they’ll most likely stick around.”
SDG’s culture also promotes community involvement through support of organizations including Ronald McDonald House, Second Harvest Heartland and Toys for Tots.
SDG employees have formed dozens of social and learning communities both online and for meetups, covering subjects ranging from whiskey tasting to Agile software development. The groups have spawned best practices and new lines of business, Rhodes said, as well as efforts to document the technologies SDG uses and those the company may want to explore.
Each employee gets $50 a month to recognize a peer for anything from a great presentation to giving a co-worker with car trouble a ride, Bertheaume said. SDG also has three lake-country cabins in northern Minnesota where employees can spend time with family and friends.
Transparency has ramped up since the company became employee-owned, Martin said, with quarterly meetings for going over financial results, including a summer meeting where members of the employee-owner committee present the financial statements.
Martin deserves credit for placing greater emphasis on SDG’s core values, said Rhodes, who worked with Martin and Bertheaume at another tech company before the three of them joined SDG.
I think we get high marks for consistency,” Martin said. The ESOP “is an opportunity to keep the organization running along the same lines to ensure that that consistency will continue.”
Todd Nelson is a freelance writer based in Lake Elmo.